We Are Back in School!

IMG_4100Albemarle County Public Schools: One Student-Centered Goal ..

All Albemarle County Public Schools students will graduate having actively mastered the lifelong-learning skills they need to succeed as 21st century learners, workers and citizens.

Albemarle Schools Strategic Plan

sch-opening-boxThe 2017-18 School Year is well underway across all 25 Albemarle County Public Schools. I am always delighted each year to visit every school in the first week to see our teachers and students come together to form new communities of learning. It is a joy to watch as our youngest children enter school for the first time and are greeted by teachers who are ready to help them make the transition into preschool and kindergarten. They learn in kindergarten to work and play with others and to negotiate their way around their schools. In many ways, children begin to acquire the lifelong learning competencies that we value for our graduates on the first day of school.

sch-opening-cabelSimilar transitions occur in middle and high schools as sixth and ninth graders enter their schools, finding that their status as the school elders in elementary and middle schools has now shifted to being the youngest students again in new buildings in which they join peers from other schools to form even larger communities of learners and learning. Our middle and high schools set up structures to ease new students into school schedules, activities, and learning expectations. This can mean time with school counselors, discussions in advisory periods such as the Developmental Design model we use in middle schools, and informal and formal visits with administrators and teachers who help with individual learning or social-emotional needs.

This year, the School Board approved funding in its 2017-18 budget for one new initiative to address the social emotional and academic needs of students with risk factors. The SEAD team concept has been put in place in four urban elementary schools to support professional development of teachers in the schools to better equip them with competencies for working with students with learning challenges. The SEAD team is working with community agencies and non-profits to also better leverage local wrap around services for students with social, emotional, or academic needs.  Benchmark data across multiple indicators will be used to monitor effectiveness of the SEAD team concept and its impact on student learning, absenteeism, behavior, and social-emotional competencies.

Imagine driving up to fifty children to and from school every day…

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Since my first day as superintendent, I have ridden a school bus, often getting on the bus when light has just touched the morning sky. Watching the drivers check their manifest and listening to the chirrup of the drivers and dispatch over the bus radio reminds me that our drivers are professionally trained drivers, all with a CDL license, and hours behind the wheel learning not how to manage goods in a tractor-trailer but rather how to safely transport as many as 50 students to and from school each day. They watch for the drivers who are not watching for our buses to be sure our children stay safely until they can be waved to the bus. They eye their mirrors to be sure whether a passenger is 4 or 18 that they remain safely seated.

As our young people enter the bus on the first day, our drivers greet them with a smile, often by name. Parents entrusting their children for the first time to our drivers often linger at the bottom of the steps watching as their four- or five-year olds take their seats. Our buses drive upwards of 14,000 miles every day across the 726 square miles of Albemarle County Public Schools. At the beginning of this year, we celebrated well over 5 million miles of safe driving and maintained an on-time arrival rate of 98% or better, division-wide, throughout the entirety of the past school year. Our Transportation Department sees safe transportation of children as Job #1!

Bond referendum support makes new spaces and security entrances possible this year …

sch-openingThis past November, the bond referendum to modernize schools and add critically needed security entrances to several schools was approved by almost 75% of our county voters. This year, Jack Jouett and Walton Middle Schools have new science learning labs, Western has begun its planning for new science and academy lab spaces, and Baker-Butler and Scottsville Elementary Schools have new security entrances moving forward for completion in this school year. The Woodbrook Elementary addition and modernization of the existing school is underway to open in 2018-19. This modernization of facilities is long overdue given the age of schools across the division.

The added capacity at Woodbrook Elementary will offer some relief to growth occurring in Albemarle’s urban ring. However, the Long-range Planning Committee and School Board are closely monitoring growth in the northern corridor, at Pantops, along Avon and Fifth Street Extended, and in the Crozet growth areas. While our rural schools are in general projected for enrollment declines, we are experiencing growth in other areas of the county.

High school over-capacity enrollment at Albemarle High School has been a target for study this past year and a consultation team’s recommendation will be brought forward to the School Board for consideration of a strategy or strategies to address over-enrollment before November 2018.

Virginia’s Profile of the Graduate and High School 2022 Planning Advances …

sch-opening-rickThe Virginia Board of Education is poised to take action on changes to current regulations for high school graduates as well as school accreditation in general. For high school students, a reduction in state requirements for verified credits is proposed to impact the entering students entering high school in 2018 who will graduate in 2022. The intention of proposed changes is to increase opportunities for students to engage in work-based experiences, independent studies, and internships before exiting high school as well as coursework aligned to the competencies associated with the 5Cs: communication, critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, and citizenship. Information about proposed Profile of the Graduate model can be accessed by clicking here.

In anticipation of Virginia’s implementation of the Profile of the Graduate model, Albemarle County educators have spent two years in a team supplemented with advisory group feedback from representative parents, students, and business community members developing High School 2022, a program guide to proposed changes essential to implementing the state’s model. The current work to address high school capacity and modernization will align with the strategic work of our own high school community members.  For more information on High School 2022, click here.

Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year! To reach your child’s school, communication information can be found here.

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Teachers Matter Most

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December is a busy month in our schools from wonderful holiday programs to routine activities that engage children in deep learning. I am fortunate to visit our schools and see the amazing work accomplished by our young people and the teachers who create opportunities to involve learners. Learning planned by our teachers challenges children’s imaginations, supports them to solve complex problems, engages them to seek and use deep knowledge of content and make interdisciplinary connections, and encourages them to sustain curiosity and pursue learning that is of intrinsic interest.

dec blog 2On a Sunday afternoon, I recently watched Scottsville fifth graders perform The Little Prince at Victory Hall, a community arts center in downtown Scottsville. The children enchanted the audience as they shared the story, with a parent-constructed set that was just perfect for the show. The sophisticated concepts in The Little Prince were beautifully interpreted by the children. I loved the introduction by Principal Sharon Amato- Wilcox who reminded us of one of many important lessons in this children’s story:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 

Drama teachers Fay Cunningham, Madeline Michel, and Caitlin Pitts recently hosted student drama teams from our four high schools (AHS, MoHS, WAHS, and Murray High) to participatIMG_2110e in a fast-paced “script to performance” master class, Wired, in which students began the morning writing a script from scratch and performing that evening. I had the chance to watch student teams participate in a feedback session with the teachers and afterwards we chatted with the students about how coaching and guiding drama students gives them immediate, actionable feedback on their progress which they love about drama. One student commented that he wished school could be drama class all day long every day.

dec blog 8A visit with a Sutherland Middle School science teacher, Bryan Anderson, also provided insight into the interesting work that he does with students in an outdoor environmental garden area. It’s amazing to see that some typical garden plants such as broccoli  are still producing due to the unseasonably warm weather. His recycled soda bottle irrigation system seems to work well – and the rabbits who live in a hutch nearby and are a great source of fertilizer. It’s not every day you see kids inspecting cotton in a school garden with the intention of sharing it with their social studies teacher as an artifact from early agricultural days- but Brian and his kids are willing to try out all kinds of experiments in their schoolyard garden.

This past Saturday, Stone-Robinson Elementary staff hosted a #girlsgeekday program. I visited and saw around 60 elementary-aged girls working with volunteer staff, mostly women, including a number of teachers. The girls were figuring out how to program Lego robots, use basic code, design and build structures to withstand high winds, create animation videos, and program with visual patterns to control Ozobots. Watching our elementary girls work with great delight on STEM projects all Saturday morning reinforced how important it is to support all of our young people to see themselves as capable designers, builders, engineers, programmers, mathematicians, and creators. A takeaway? when children find learning interesting, they are intrinsically motivated to keep going.

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I also found out this past weekend about an AHS jazz band accomplishment. After completing and submitting a jazz tape made with support from the A3 House music studio in the Albemarle High Learning Commons, our jazz musicians were notified that they had been selected as one of twelve high school jazz bands across the nation to attend the prestigious Savannah Jazz Festival this coming April. Our AHS jazz musicians are some of the very best in the nation under the direction of Greg Thomas and this video shows why they are considered as such.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLEkiIWV6oE]

Finally, I’m proud that Albemarle County Public Schools was recently notified of its #5 school division Niche ranking in Virginia. Notably, our teaching staff received the highest rating possible which corroborates my belief that our teachers advance learning in powerful ways and that’s recognized by parents and students alike. While I want all of our young people to have excellent, modern facilities and top-notch learning tools, I also know that teaching quality makes the real difference in a child’s success in school. Commitment to learning quality must supersede other investments. Recruiting, selecting and developing the best educators we can find has led to our recognition of our young people and those who serve them well.

Schools matter. Learning tools matter. Teachers matter most.

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